Shortly after sunset yesterday, Bloomberg broke the news that the New York Knicks partnered with Steve Stoute’s advertising agency Translation LLC to help the team bolster the brand and strengthen ties to the fanbase. The tweet branded1 the article as a makeover.
Immediately after the tweet, many Knicks fans lashed out with disapproval. Sentiments such as “fix the team,” “fire the front office,” and “win more games” were the overarching themes. Immediately, the perception arose that the Knicks believe lack of attendance is due to “image” and not assembling a better roster.
Winning fixes just about everything, that can’t be denied. A cohesive front office makes a huge difference. However, Steve Stoute is not here to save the Knicks. Stoute is the king of advertising campaigns. The list of his successful ad campaigns probably exceeds the Knicks win totals combined in recent years. Before judging the partnership, perhaps it’s worth the time to understand Stoute and emphasize his accomplishments.
Steve Stoute, the advertising titan.
Before Stoute made his mark in Corporate America, he spend most of the 1990s in the music industry. He started off as a road manager for Kid ‘n Play to managing the careers of Nas and Mary J. Blige. Known as “The Commissioner”, he was the President of Urban Music at Columbia Records. He helped Nas become a household name in the 90s.
Stoute’s time in the music industry allowed him to foster several key relationships, including an embattled one with Sean “Diddy” Combs2& Jay-Z. These relationships came handy once Stoute transitioned into Corporate America.
Stoute became a power negotiator during the first half of the 2000s. He was behind several notable deals, including Reebok’s sneaker deal with Jay-Z (S. Carter) and G-Unit; the 2003 McDonald’s I’m Lovin’ It global ad campaign featuring Justin Timberlake and Pusha-T of the Clipse, and the 2006 Budweiser ad campaign featuring Jay-Z. Stoute officially formed Translation Advertising in 2008 with Jay-Z, the then-Brooklyn Nets minority owner, as his partner. Translation subsequently partnered with Wrigley to create a new ad jingle for Doublemint Gum starring Chris Brown. Brown sang a 30 second snippet in the ad, which ultimately turned into a Billboard Top 100 hit in “Forever.”
Translation soon became a disruptor in the advertising industry as an agency that connects brands with a younger clientele. The agency acquired large clients including the NFL, Budweiser, and even the Brooklyn Nets. Those success stories included the rollout of the Bud Light Lime and Platinum during Super Bowl XLVII, the Budweiser partnership with Jay-Z Made In America Festival, & the Hello Brooklyn and We Go Hard campaigns for the Brooklyn Nets. Translation3: Stoute’s partnerships turn to gold. Recently, some of its bigger projects include the Chris Paul “State Farm” commercials, the production of the HBO Documentary “Defiant Ones,” and the 2018 documentary “Student Athlete” produced by Lebron James.
So why does this matter?
As I mentioned above, Steve Stoute will not save the Knicks. No, his famous friends in Diddy, Jay-Z, LeBron, and others won’t immediately help legitimize the franchise. Only the Knicks can save the Knicks. Get a front office that understands what it takes to build a winning franchise and the fans will support it and the team will win games. A cohesive vision will help sell fans to the pathway of winning. It’s the blueprint to fostering the next generation of Knicks fans.
Advertising and branding campaigns must happen in times of winning and losing. Times of normalcy and embarrassment. Times of apathy and excitement. Madison Square Garden must fulfill its core duty to increase shareholder value continuously. Advertising and branding is a multi-year process that will involved a combination of new age analytics, cutting edge marketing, and re-engaging the fanbase. The fruits of Stoute’s labor won’t be realized instantly, just as was the case when he partnered with the Brooklyn Nets.
Even if the Knicks win 10 games and have the worst front office in sports, the team must do whatever it takes to attract as many fans to attend Madison Square Garden at least 41 games a year and purchase merchandise. This is the core epithet of Business 101. Advertising and branding strategies must refresh periodically to reflect new consumer trends. Why not engage Stoute – a lifelong Knicks fan & one of the best in the business – to assist with that?